A Dissent on Kassim Ahmad’s ‘Man – What is Man?’


February 5, 2016

A Dissent on Kassim Ahmad’s ‘Man – What is Man?’

by Terence Netto

Stand First: Kassim gets it wrong from the start.

In his disquisition entitled ‘Man – What is Man?’, Kassim Ahmad says that the bible’s description of man as a being made in the image and likeness of God and the Quran’s positing of the same being as God’s viceregent on earth (Arabic: Khalifah) are variations on the same theme: God is magnificent creator and man is obedient servant/custodian.

Din Merican’s use of Hamlet’s musings on the puzzle of man in the epigraph to Kassim’s disquisition is fortuitous for its intimation of how Kassim has got it badly wrong by conflating the biblical and Quranic descriptions of man’s nature and destiny.

dato-din-merican1

Thanks, Pak Kassim. Your latest piece is educational and eye opening. I hear your call. Know thyself and you will not be lost.

MAN is chosen by God to be His vicegerent (patih) on Earth; instead he chooses to be a degenerate, full of hate, rancour, and bitterness. I don’t blame Hamlet (William Shakespeare) for his dim view of Man.–Din Merican

The biblical version and the outcome it portends are best rendered by Blaise Pascal’s formulation: “Man is neither angel nor beast and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Pascal’s dictum is perceptive in its grasp of the divided nature of man and man’s need of redemptive grace. The tragic sense of life, as conveyed in Shakespearean and classical Greek drama, is integral to this worldview.

Consider the Quranic view of man’s nature and destiny.

God “created man from dry clay … breathed of my spirit into him” (Sura 5: 26-9). It is this breath of God which makes human beings distinct from other beings: despite the literal earthiness of human nature, Muslims insist that people have a God-given capacity to know and perform God’s will. Muslims thus claim that their attitude towards human nature is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic.

Consider the corollaries of this worldview: there is no conflict between flesh and spirit, no dichotomy between the spiritual and the political (mosque and state), and no cause for the tragic sense of life, and consequently, no sense of the service of tragedy in the grasp of history, which as Alfred North Whitehead correctly concluded, is peace – the purification of emotions. (Ever wondered why Muslim societies are so turbulent!?)

Kassim Ahmad has contributed immensely to the national discourse in Malaysia on the importance of religion in public life and morality.

But he suffers from the weakness of the perennial ideologue: a quest for system over empiricism, constructs over reality, ersatz formulations over nuanced ones.

Heedless is he of Honore Balzac’s warning: “It’s not sufficient to be a man; one must be a system.”

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss


February 5, 2018

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss

by Anisah Shukry

An outpouring of solidarity for dissident artist Fahmi Reza in the form of posters shared online, after a warning from Malaysian police over his caricatures of the prime minister. – Fahmi Reza Twitter pic, February 5, 2016.

Images of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak dolled up in chalk-white makeup, with a bright red gash for a smile and neon green (or occasionally lush orange) hair, greet visitors to the Facebook community page called Grupa.

It is an acronym for “Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme”, or “Rebel Graphics for Protests and Activism”, which brought together several graphic designers and digital artists to design posters for last year’s Bersih protest in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, they have set their sights on a new project: flooding the social media with pictures of a clown-faced Najib – sometimes grinning, sometimes sad, and sometimes with a rose dangling from between his lips – along with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut (we are all seditious).

In Malaysia, where an award-winning cartoonist was censured for drawing satirical comics on the Prime Minister and his wife, Grupa’s antics are more than just a colourful dig at Najib.

They told The Malaysian Insider they were risking arrest to stand up for fellow graphic artist Fahmi Reza, who posted the first clown caricature of Najib on his own Twitter on January 31, and promptly attracted police attention.

In Fahmi’s debut clown poster of Najib, he drew a fang-like smile on the Prime Minister’s face and sinister-looking eyebrows, with the caption: “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. Tapi dalam negara yang penuh dengan korupsi, kita semua penghasut (but in a country that is full of corruption, we are all seditious).”

It was in response to the Attorney-General’s decision to close investigations into the RM2.6 billion found in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Not impressed, the newly-set up Twitter account for the Police’s Cyber Investigation Response Centre (@OfficialPcirc) warned him that he was being watched.

“My first reaction was shock,” Fahmi told The Malaysian Insider as he recalled receiving the tweet.

“I didn’t know the existence of that police cyber unit, PCIRC, until they tweeted me that warning.”

But that feeling quickly turned to outrage when he read its tweet, especially the words “Gunakan dgn berhemah&berlandaskan undang2” (use properly and in accordance with the law).

Big Brother is watching

Defiant, Fahmi immediately wrote a post on Facebook in Malay, which translates to, “In a country that uses laws to protect the corrupt and oppress those brave enough to speak out, it is time we abandon all niceties when fighting the corrupt rulers”.

He also posted another satirical artwork on Twitter, using the police’s words against them in the caption, along with the hashtag #BigBrotherIsWatchingYou, an ode to George Orwell’s 1984.

The activist, who recalled his arrest 12 years ago for drawing a poster on police brutality, didn’t expect the Internet’s graphic artist community to rise up with him in solidarity this time around.

The #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement was a “new wave graphic rebellion against the Old Order”, he said, and the response has been overwhelming.

“It was beyond my expectations. It proved to me that I was not alone. There were others who share my outrage.In the past, graphic designers have largely kept themselves out of the limelight when it came to politics and activism. Grupa is a breath of fresh air,” said Fahmi.

On Grupa’s Facebook, fresh caricatures of Najib are posted every hour, and social media users are lapping it up.”Make a shirt of it, I’d buy it,” urged Facebook user Apisz Fumi in the comments section.

“That is one frightening image,” observed Richard Lee, to a digitally edited picture of Najib baring rotten, bleeding teeth and a cheerfully bright red clown nose.

Grupa said the movement came about when they decided to produce clown-faced posters of Najib to show solidarity with a fellow graphic artist and disgust at the ruling class for “constantly abusing the law”.

“We started releasing several posters on our Facebook page and before we knew it, we even had the public submitting their own versions of Clown Najib to us. To date, we have released 46 posters depicting Najib as a clown,” the group said, adding that they received dozens of paintings from “the citizenry” a day through email.

But the group, as well as Fahmi, risk running afoul of the law, more specifically Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

A conviction could land the artists a fine of up to RM50,000, a year’s jail, or both.And as if to drive this point home, @OfficialPcirc’s only tweet since issuing the warning to Fahmi comprised an image breaking down that same law.

But the prospect of having the police cyber unit clamp down on them doesn’t seem to perturb Grupa, even though they risk courting more trouble than Fahmi, given the flood of caricatures on their page.

They said they were frightened of just one thing: being trampled over should they not voice out.

“So far, no authorities have contacted us, but that may change. We are looking forward to it,” they added.

Global attention

The BBC report on Fahmi Reza and the solidarity shown to him by fellow graphic artists. – BBC pic, February 5, 2016.

For the time being, the group plans to continue sharing clown images of the Prime Minister as long as it believes citizens are being repressed and denied their right to free speech and freedom of expression.

Besides receiving Facebook likes and shares, they gained international publicity with a BBC report on them titled “PM left red nosed by censorship protest”.

Grupa said they were left “humbled and surprised” by the attention.

“We didn’t expect it to go big…Actually we did lah, I mean, you mess with freedom of expression this is what you get lah, blowback,” they quipped.

Despite this, the group is strict about maintaining anonymity. “We are an anonymous collective group of graphic designers and digital artists who work as a team devoid of a formal hierarchy. There is no one in charge as we feel that our artwork should do the talking for us.You can say that our posters are in charge.”

Fahmi said he was ecstatic by the Malaysian graphic design community’s strong spirit of resistance.”It shows that they can ban a poster, but they can’t ban the idea behind the poster. Because ideas are bulletproof.”

And he is confident Malaysia’s #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement will herald a change in society.

“The outpouring of solidarity posters from graphic artists with their own versions of a clown-faced Najib despite the police warning against it was a clear act of defiance and represents a shift in the way ordinary people react to police intimidation.

“When people are emboldened to defy and stand up against injustice, it chips away at the power structure that keeps people docile.”

Clearly emboldened by the movement, Fahmi shared the BBC report on his Twitter yesterday, with the caption, “#KitaSemuaPenghasut has spread. The rebellion has begun.”

He told The Malaysian Insider: “That BBC took interest in the story shows how preposterous it is to consider a satirical graphic featuring the Prime Minister to be a threat.”

Munshi Abdullah–The Antithesis of Ketuanan Melayu Leadership


January 5, 2016

Munshi Abdullah–The Antithesis of Ketuanan Melayu Leadership

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Malay society has no shortage of formal leaders. First we have the hereditary leaders, from the sultan down to his various lowly chieftains including the local datuk lembaga (lord admiral). This pattern of leadership has a long history in our society.

Then came the religious leaders, of more recent vintage, introduced in the 15th Century with the coming of Islam to the Malay world. More recently and fast gaining a pivotal role, are political leaders.

With modern political institutions, especially democratic ones, we should expect a more frequent emergence of fresh leaders. This is not necessarily so. China is far from being a democratic society yet its People Congress gets more infusion of fresh talents with each party’s election. Compare that to the United States Congress, the self-declared exemplar of representative government. You are more likely to get a new member of the old Soviet Politburo than you are to get a new member of US Congress.

UMNO, the premier Malay political organization, is on par with the old Soviet Politburo in nurturing new talent.Despite modernity, both hereditary and religious leaders still have a strong hold on Malays.

The problem with both types of leadership is that they are by nature conservative; each successor maintaining and replicating the pattern set by his predecessor. With hereditary rulers, this could be the matter of genetics or familial upbringing. With religious leaders, the pattern of training or learning. It is the rare student who would deviate from his teacher’s path to blaze a new trail. This is especially so with the Islamic tradition of learning where the emphasis is on taqlid (to follow or to imitate). Stated more succinctly, do not expect much innovation or expressions of free-mindedness from such leaders.

Human society however, is complex. One does not need to have a formal role as leader, or be anointed as one, to have an impact on society. Often such de novo leaders, unburdened by tradition or expectations, exhibit remarkable free-mindedness and can be transformative.

1819

One such leader in Malay society was Munshi Abdullah. Today he is held in low esteem and dismissed as a brown Mat Salleh (an epithet for Englishman) by our revisionist historians and self-proclaimed champions of Ketuanan Melayu. They even ridicule his “impure” Malay heritage.

These present-day Malay nationalists, still trapped in the relics of their old anti-colonial mental prison, are perturbed that Abdullah’s free-mindedness let him collaborate with the colonialists. Abdullah even translated the bible! Today he would have been labeled a murtad (apostate) and sent to a re-education camp – Islamic style. Worse, he could be imprisoned without trial for an indeterminate period. Imagine the loss!

Bless the old colonial English for letting Abdullah be who he was. Mushi Abdullah should also thank his lucky stars that he was born during colonial times and not in today’s Malaysia.To the free-minded Abdullah, working with the colonialists of his time meant the opportunity to expand his intellectual horizon and learn of the advances of the West. Most of all he wanted to understand what made the British tick. He did not ignore but instead nurtured his innate human nature of being curious and inquisitive.

When the British invited him to visit a colonial warship for example, he was not a mere casual visitor. He recorded his experiences, complete with drawings of the contraption, and then challenged his readers to wonder what was it about British minds that made them invent such awesome machines. If the miracle of steel did not astound the visitor, ponder the fact that the British could even make it float!

Today, more than a century and a half after his death, we are still benefiting from Abdullah’s writings and wisdom. We do not remember who the sultan was at Abdullah’s time, but we remember Abdullah through his written words.

Today we send many of our leaders and also would-be leaders abroad, a few to the great universities of the world.  What do they bring back?

Abdullah’s free-mindedness enabled him to appreciate the advancements of the British, as with their warships and books. He was not at all embarrassed to acknowledge that his own people were far behind. To Abdullah, there was nothing to be ashamed about that; he looked upon it as an opportunity to learn from and catch up with them. Far from shunning the British he worked closely with them, leading many today to contemptuously dismiss him as a colonial hired hand.

Yes, he was handsomely compensated for teaching our language to the English, but he was also providing a valuable service them. Now those colonials could better communicate with and understand our people.

Abdullah learned much from the British. He did not learn how to forge steel or make it float, but he learned something much more profound. He saw how those colonials communicated with each other, their style of writing, and their penchant for documenting their experiences. Abdullah too began doing that, writing about his travels and experiences. And he did it in the style of the British – direct, factual, and with the minimal of formalities. With that, Abdullah transformed Malay literature.

Up until then Malay writings, as with our letters to the sultans and high officials, were heavy on formalities, with rigid highly stylized forms of salutations that would fill the entire page and often obscure the message. Abdullah initiated the direct and factual style of writing, emulating the British.

As for Malay literature, up until his time it had been nothing more than the stylized repeating of phrases and proverbs, facts liberally mixed with imagination and conjecture, and written in the indirect third person as in the various Hikayats. Abdullah was the first to write directly and with a personal (first person) perspective, as with his Hikayat Abdullah.

Such are the powers of those with a free mind; they brazenly pave new paths so others may follow. What our Malay community needs now is not a new culture, another “mental revolution,” or even greater mindless assertions of Ketuanan Melayu but more of those individuals with free minds as exemplified by Munshi Abdullah, especially among our leaders.

Farewell 2015, Welcome 2016 and Thanks


January 1, 2016

Farewell 2015. Welcome 2016 and Thanks for the Memories

Din2016

When I say that 2015 was a Year of major disappointments and frustrations, I am being generous. It was, in fact, a horrible year for our country. We have become a divided nation led by a corrupt leader who would not hesitate to use the awesome power of his office to cling desperately to his job.

Never before in my life have I witnessed a nation torn apart by race and religion. Suddenly we are being given the impression that the survival of the Malays as a race and a people are being threatened by pendatangs. Nothing can be further from the truth than that. In stead, we should count our blessings because our diversity is strength.

UMNO politicians have nothing better to do than to create a bogeyman to divert our attention from the fact that they have been solely responsible for running our nation to the ground. In stead to serving the people of Malaysia, they have served themselves.

Corruption has been rampant in 2015, and we face a crisis of confidence because our Prime Minister has been lying to us. And he is getting away with it because most of us do not care enough to make a stand. 2016 is going to be another terrible year as issues boil over. Restoring trust will be our challenge for 2016. How will our government respond, with more gaffes, or with vision and verve?

Be as it may, Dr. Kamsiah and I wish you all a Happy 2016 and thank you for your support . You, all our friends and associates around the world, provided invaluable comments on this blog that are both constructive and very educational. To our fellow Malaysians, we urge you to stay united as we believe bad times do not last, but resolute people do.– Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

The need for a new education


December 18, 2015

The need for a new education

by Jesús  Sanchez Granados*

Edited for Brevity–Din Merican

outcomes_4

In the beginning, education and the ideals it embodied aspired to create a “perfect” citizenry. Later,the objective shifted to ensuring that citizens were well-trained, and more recently it shifted once again to the awakening of the critical spirit. Today, the ideal is creativity: the capacity to learn and a lifelong willingness to face new things and modify learned expectations accordingly; there can be no learning without re-learning, without the revision that must be undertaken when we realise the weakness of what we thought we knew. In a knowledge society, education is the capacity to be creative in an environment of particular uncertainty, the capacity to properly manage the cognitive dissonance that gives rise to our failure to comprehend reality (Innerarity, 2010).

Therefore, in the world of liquid modernity, we must move away from sporadic education and towards lifelong learning.This entails overcoming security-driven resistance: the pillars to which we cling because they lend us a sense of security a mistake in a world filled with insecurities and ephemeral validities.

Conventionally, education has been understood as preparation for life, as personal realisation, and as an essential element in progress and social change, in accordance with changing needs (Chitty, 2002). Orr (2004) declares that if certain precautions are not taken, education may equip people to become “more effective vandals of the earth”. He describes education of the sort we have seen thus far as a possible problem, and argues for a new type of education:

More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival. It is not education but education of a certain kind that will save us.
(Orr, 2008:8)
Education, in other words, can be a dangerous thing (…). It is time, I believe, for an educational ‘perestroika’, by which I mean a general rethinking of the process and substance of education at all levels, beginning with the admission that much of what has gone wrong with the world is the result of education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies,overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance.” 
(Orr, 2004: 17) 

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has emerged as a paradigm for revising and reorienting today’s education. ESD consists of new forms of knowing and learning how to be human in a different way. This education aims to contribute to the sustainability of personal integrity or, in the words of Sterling (2001), to the integrity of the spirit, heart, head and hands.

As argued by Dewey and the educational reconstructionists, it is often not enough to do things according to custom or habit that is,to reproduce the existing social system. Instead, new answers must be sought. If we are to imagine new ways of living and acting, then we must be capable of assessing and bringing about social change, because successfully achieving sustainable development requires the following principles: being aware of the challenge, taking action voluntarily, assuming collective responsibility and forming a constructive partnership, and believing in the dignity of all human beings without exception.

These principles for lasting human development, formulated at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, imply lessons that largely coincide with the four pillars of education set out in the Delors Report: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.In the context of ESD, UNESCO (2008) suggested the inclusion of a fifth pillar: learning to transform oneself and society. In a sense, education must lead to empowerment: through education, individuals should acquire the capacity to make decisions and act effectively in accordance with those decisions, and this in turn entails the ability to influence the rules of play through any of the available options. Thus, education consists in developing not only personal but also social qualities; it is the development of social conscience: awareness of how society works, knowledge of how it is structured, and a sense of the personal agency and how all together allow and determine intervention and a sense of the extent to which personal agency allows intervention (Goldberg, 2009). Essentially, it opens a dialogue between the personal and the collective, between common and individual interests, between rights and obligations. 

Reformulation of higher education

Einstein once said that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.Current needs suggest that we must learn to view the world and, therefore, education in a new way.Higher education has in the past demonstrated its crucial role in introducing change and progress in society and is today considered a key agent in educating new generations to build the future, but this does not exempt it from becoming the object of an internal reformulation. 

According to the World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century  (1998), higher education is facing a number of important challenges at the international, national and institutional levels. At the international level, there are two main challenges. The first is the role of supranational organisations such as UNESCO in advancing the prospection of trends and improvements, as well as in promoting networking and twinning programmes among institutions. The European Union (EC-JRC,2010), for example, has stressed that higher education must change and adapt to economic and social needs, that institutional change is essential to educational innovation, and that information and communication technologies must form part of the teaching and learning process. The second international challenge is to encourage international cooperation between institutions in order to share knowledge across borders and facilitate collaboration, which, furthermore, represents an essential element for the construction of a planetary (Morin, 2009) and post-cosmopolitan citizenship (Dobson and Bell, 2006): the assumption of interdependence, “deterritorialisation”, participation,co-responsibility, and solidarity among all inhabitants of the planet. 

States must provide the necessary financing so that universities can carry out their public-service function. States may also enact laws to ensure equality of access and strengthen the role of women in higher education and in society.

The following are the challenges faced by universities and other institutions of higher education:

  • Changes in universities as institutions and at the level of internal organisation. These changes should aim to improve the management of resources (human, economic, etc.) and be restructured to improve internal democracy.Universities must continue their mission to educate, train and carry out research through an approach characterised by ethics, autonomy,responsibility and anticipation.
  • Changes in knowledge creation. Interdisciplinary and trans disciplinary approaches should betaken and non-scientific forms of knowledge should be explored,
  • .Changes in the educational model. New teaching/learning approaches that enable the development of critical and creative thinking should be integrated. The competencies common to all higher-education graduates should be determined and the corresponding expectations should be defined. In a knowledge society, higher education should transform us from disoriented projectiles into guided missiles: rockets capable of changing direction in flight,adapting to variable circumstances, and constantly course-correcting. The idea is to teach people to learn quickly as they go along, with the capacity to change their mind and even renounce previous decisions if necessary, without over thinking or having regrets. Teaching and learning must be more active, connected to real life, and designed with students and their peculiarities in mind.
  • Changes aimed at tapping the potential of information and communication technologies in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The goal of such changes is to create what Prensky (2009) calls digital wisdom.
  • Changes for social responsibility and knowledge transfer. The work of higher education institutions must be relevant. What they do, and what is expected of them must be seen as service to society; their research must anticipate social needs; and the products of their research must be shared effectively.
 *Jesús Granados holds a PhD in Education from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with a thesis on Education for sustainability and Teaching Geography. Graduated in Geography (UAB), he holds a Master in Social Sciences Education (UAB) and a Master in Environmental Education and Communication (ISEMA). He worked at Universidad de la Rioja and in 2004 moved to the UAB to teach and research at the Faculty of Education, where he implemented, amongst others, the subject of Education for sustainability that was an optional campus subject available for all the degrees at the UAB.  At present,since May 2011 Jesús is working at GUNI as studies, research and contents coordinator. For further information about this article, contact the author at the following e-mail address:  jesusgranadossanchez@gmail.com

2015 TIME Person of the Year: Germany’s Angela Merkel


December 10, 2015

2015 TIME Person of the Year–Congratulations, Madam

timemagazine_poy_cover_750

Germany’s Chancellor Angel Merkel

by Nancy Gibbs

http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2015-angela-merkel-choice/

Europe’s most powerful leader is a refugee from a time and place where her power would have been unimaginable. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), where Angela Merkel grew up, was neither democratic nor a republic; it was an Orwellian horror show, where the Iron Curtain found literal expression in the form of the Berlin Wall. The shy daughter of a Lutheran minister, Merkel slipped into politics as a divorced Protestant in a largely Catholic party, a woman in a frat house, an Ossi in the newly unified Germany of the 1990s where easterners were still aliens. No other major Western leader grew up in a stockade, which gave Merkel a rare perspective on the lure of freedom and the risks people will take to taste it.

Her political style was not to have one; no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s sharp sense of power and a scientist’s devotion to data. Even after Merkel became Germany’s Chancellor in 2005, and then commanded the world’s fourth largest economy, she remained resolutely dull—the better to be underestimated time and again. German pundits called her Merkelvellian when she outsmarted, isolated or just outlasted anyone who might mount a challenge to her. Ever cautious, she proudly practiced what Willy Brandt once called Die Politik der kleinen Schritte (the politics of baby steps), or as we call it in the U.S., leading from behind.

Then came 2015. Not once or twice but three times this year there has been reason to wonder whether Europe could continue to exist, not culturally or geographically but as a historic experiment in ambitious statecraft. Merkel had already emerged as the indispensable player in managing Europe’s serial debt crises; she also led the West’s response to Vladimir Putin’s creeping theft of Ukraine. But now the prospect of Greek bankruptcy threatened the very existence of the euro zone. The migrant and refugee crisis challenged the principle of open borders. And finally, the carnage in Paris revived the reflex to slam doors, build walls and trust no one.

Each time Merkel stepped in. Germany would bail Greece out, on her strict terms. It would welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it. And it would deploy troops abroad in the fight against ISIS. Germany has spent the past 70 years testing antidotes to its toxically nationalist, militarist, genocidal past. Merkel brandished a different set of values—humanity, generosity, tolerance—to demonstrate how Germany’s great strength could be used to save, rather than destroy. It is rare to see a leader in the process of shedding an old and haunting national identity. “If we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations,” she said, “then that’s not my country.”

And so this time, the woman who trained as a quantum chemist did not run the tests and do the lab work; she made her stand. The blowback has come fast and from all sides. Donald Trump called Merkel “insane” and called the refugees “one of the great Trojan horses.” German protesters called her a traitor, a whore; her allies warned of a popular revolt, and her opponents warned of economic collapse and cultural suicide. The conservative Die Welt published a leaked intelligence report warning about the challenge of assimilating a million migrants: “We are importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other people as well as a different understanding of society and law.” Her approval ratings dropped more than 20 points, even as she broadcast her faith in her people: “Wir schaffen das,” she has said over and over. “We can do this.”

At a moment when much of the world is once more engaged in a furious debate about the balance between safety and freedom, the Chancellor is asking a great deal of the German people, and by their example, the rest of us as well. To be welcoming. To be unafraid. To believe that great civilizations build bridges, not walls, and that wars are won both on and off the battlefield. By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom. The pastor’s daughter wielded mercy like a weapon. You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow. For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is TIME’s Person of the Year.